Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928) is an

American autobiographer and poet who has been called “America’s most visible black female autobiographer” by scholar Joanne M. Braxton. She is best known for her series of six autobiographical volumes, which focus on her childhood and early adulthood experiences. The first, best-known, and most highly acclaimed, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), focuses on the first seventeen years of her life, brought her international recognition, and was nominated for a National Book Award. Angelou has been highly honored for her body of work, including being awarded over 30 honorary degrees and the nomination of a Pulitzer Prize for her 1971 volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie.

With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou was heralded as a new kind of memoirist, one of the first African American women who was able to publicly discuss her personal life. She became recognized and highly respected as a spokesperson for black people and women. Angelou’s work is often characterized as autobiographical fiction. Angelou has, however, made a deliberate attempt through her work to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Her books, centered on themes such as identity, family, and racism, are often used as set texts in schools and universities internationally. Some of her more controversial work has been challenged or banned in US schools and libraries.

Angelou’s use of fiction-writing techniques such as dialogue, characterization, and development of theme, setting, plot, and language has often resulted in the placement of her books into the genre of autobiographical fiction, but Angelou has characterized them as autobiographies. As Lauret has stated, Angelou made a deliberate attempt in her books to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre.  Lupton has insisted that all of Angelou’s autobiographies conform to the genre’s standard structure: they are written by a single author, they are chronological, and they contain elements of character, technique, and theme.  Angelou has also recognized that there are fictional aspects to her books. Lupton has stated that Angelou has tended to “diverge from the conventional notion of autobiography as truth”, i which has paralleled the conventions of much of African American autobiography written during the abolitionist period of US history, when the truth was censored out of the need for self-protection. Angelou has acknowledged that she has followed the slave narrative tradition of “speaking in the first-person singular talking about the first-person plural, always saying I meaning ‘we’”. Hagen places Angelou in the long tradition of African American autobiography, but insists that she has created a unique interpretation of the autobiographical form.

Angelou’s use of fiction-writing techniques such as dialogue, characterization, and development of theme, setting, plot, and language has often resulted in the placement of her books into the genre of autobiographical fiction, but Angelou has characterized them as autobiographies. As Lauret has stated, Angelou made a deliberate attempt in her books to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Lupton has insisted that all of Angelou’s autobiographies conform to the genre’s standard structure: they are written by a single author, they are chronological, and they contain elements of character, technique, and theme. Angelou has also recognized that there are fictional aspects to her books. Lupton has stated that Angelou has tended to “diverge from the conventional notion of autobiography as truth”, i which has paralleled the conventions of much of African American autobiography written during the abolitionist period of US history, when the truth was censored out of the need for self-protection. Angelou has acknowledged that she has followed the slave narrative tradition of “speaking in the first-person singular talking about the first-person plural, always saying I meaning ‘we’”. Hagen places Angelou in the long tradition of African American autobiography, but insists that she has created a unique interpretation of the autobiographical form

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